St Helena Online

Tag: Exco

Les Baldwin wins a place on Executive Council

The Honourable Leslie Baldwin has been elected to serve on St Helena’s Executive Council.

The seat became vacant when Nigel Dollery stepped down from the island’s main decision-making group only weeks after the July 2013 general election, citing personal reasons.

Mr Baldwin will also take over the chairmanship of the social and community development committee.

The election took place on Monday 14 October 2013 at the first full meeting of the island’s new Legislative Council.

Mr Baldwin had to win the support of at least seven councillors to secure the required majority. No other candidates were put forward and there were no votes of dissent.

The Speaker, Mr Eric Benjamin, opened the formal session by thanking former councillors for helping to make St Helena a special place to live. He also gave recognition to the “excellent support” given by staff.

He added: “The future of our island is in my opinion dependant on every man and woman boy and girl playing a useful part in our island’s affairs.”

The LegCo meeting is being broadcast by SAMS Radio 1 at – follow the link in the top right-hand corner of the web page. 

Governor and politicians top ‘not trusted’ list

Looking the other way: a government report leaves out criticisms of officials
Looking the other way: a government report leaves out criticisms of officials. Picture by Vince Thompson

Politicians have been named as the least trusted people on St Helena, along with journalists.

But the governor has come second in a list of the most distrusted people on the island – and that fact was left out of a summary of the findings that was issued to media by the government.

Governor Mark Capes is not named in the report on the first-ever survey of ethics at work, and it is possible the distrust relates to governors in general.

Only 74 people said they trusted the governor, despite the fact that 70 people who responded described themselves as senior managers or leaders, and 320 (73%) worked for the government.

Councillors were “not trusted” by a massive 60% of respondents. The governor was distrusted by 39%, closely followed by journalists (38%), police (35%), doctors (33%) and business leaders (32%).

Another 32% said they did trust doctors – and 36% offered no opinion.

But the summary issued to the media only mentioned a different set of findings –showing the people who came bottom of a list of “trusted” people.

It said only 9% of people trusted councillors, followed by journalists (14%) and business leaders (18%).

It failed to mention that the governor – the unelected representative of Her Majesty the Queen, appointed by Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office – came fourth from the bottom, trusted by only 19% of respondents.

The survey was conducted by the Institute of Business Ethics, a UK charity. It pointed out that journalists and politicians also rank low in British surveys of trusted figures.

St Helena Government has been asked to explain why the findings for the governor were not included in the summary issued to the media – especially as it says that “honesty is defined as… speaking the truth”.

In response, it said only: “Both reports are openly available in the public domain. We have nothing to add.”

The initial press release did say that the full report had been published on the government website. The list of trusted figures is on page 33 of the document.

It shows the most trusted people are teachers (54%), followed by technical professionals and skilled labourers (42% each) and religious leaders (41%).

The summary says: “Councillors, business leaders and journalists were shown to be the least trusted professions.

“This could partly be due to the fact that these professions are linked to key decisions made for the island at this time of change and are relatively high profile figures.

“Of course, it could be that a particular councillor, business leader or journalist is not trusted.”

The distrust of the governor may also be historic, relating to various governors who have served in recent years.

However, the St Helena Freedom of Information Campaign has argued that the excessive secrecy practised within The Castle has caused deep distrust of the island’s government.

And the dealings of the main decision-making body, the executive council, have become more secretive under Governor Mark Capes.

His reports of ExCo meetings are also far less revealing than those of his predecessor, Andrew Gurr, who made sure parts of ExCo meetings were routinely open to the public.

Governor Capes has challenged the island’s new legislative council “to improve the reputation and worth of councillors in the eyes of the people of this island”.

Newly-elected executive councillors are working on ways to improve openness – and increase trust. But it is expected to take time to change a deep-rooted culture of secretiveness in The Castle.

A team from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, led by Lord Shutt of Greenock, arrived on St Helena on Tuesday 31 July 2013 to help councillors be more effective.

An unofficial briefing seen by St Helena Online says that councillors have been over-reliant on advice from senior officials in the past, because of a lack of support systems enjoyed by politicians in larger democracies.

Public servants were trusted by only 25% of people in the ethics survey, and distrusted by 24%. However, 73% of those surveyed were… public servants.

Full report on St Helena Ethics at Work survey, by the Institute of Business Ethics
St Helena Government summary of the Ethics At Work survey

New leaders vow to end ‘embarrassment’ of secrecy

UK politicians revive St Helena group on eve of polls

The all-party Parliamentary group for St Helena has been revived in London, close to what could be the most important general election in the island’s history.

It comes after Vince Thompson of the St Helena Independent talked with Lord Jones of Cheltenham and Sir Bob Russell at separate meetings in Westminster.

The group had not met since the Coalition Government came to power.

At the meeting with Lord Jones – also attended by Simon Pipe of St Helena Online – a number of concerns were raised about issues on the island, including infrastructure and lack of open government.

Lord Jones was strongly supportive of the campaign to introduce freedom of information legislation and end excessive secrecy on the part of the island’s executive council.

He continues to receive informal briefings by email  – including an update on the election and the abrupt departure of fisheries expert Mark Brumbill amid allegations of unspecified threats against his family.

The all-party group held an annual general meeting on 4 July 2013. 

Sir Bob, who led the fight in Westminster for Saints to be given back their British citizenship after it was removed by Margaret Thatcher, was re-elected as chairman.

Meg Munn MP is a vice chair.

Ten government and ten opposition names are the minimum needed for the group to be legitimate.

Two Labour peers, Lord Snape and Lord Brookman – both former union leaders – were brought in to make up the numbers.

Stedson attempts to revive party politics on St Helena

An attempt is being made to introduce party politics to St Helena for the first time in four decades.

Stedson George has announced the launch of the St Helena Democratic Socialist Party.

It follows a separate announcement by would-be councillors Lawson Henry and Ian Rummery that they would campaign together in the 2013 general election – due to take place on 17 July.

Stedson has distributed a manifesto in island shops, calling for better pensions and benefits, free health care for Saints, and a fairer society – which includes confronting the “wild difference between island and expat salaries”.

Ian and Lawson’s “common values” include: the need for freedom of information; better water and housing; pensions and benefits that reflect living costs; more support for health and education; economic development to benefit all Saints, not just in tourism; and a “level playing field” for local and overseas businesses. 

They have begun holding public meetings, which other election candidates have also attended, but they have not formally established a political party.

Stedson told Saint FM Community Radio: “You hear people talk about the government as if it was some faceless people in the Castle.

“The government is actually the executive council. And the executive council is made up of five elected Saints, so you wonder, if they are the government, why are they doing things that are perhaps not in the interests of the people/

“I think the answer is because they are not united. They don’t have a unifying manifesto – a policy – and the old saying is, divide and rule.

“I think the only way to overcome this is to form a political party.  

“I know it’s been done before. Mr Tony Thornton formed a Labour party back in the Seventies, and people will say that didn’t work so why try again?

“I think somebody has to make a start, so I have decided to make a start. I have called it the St Helena Democratic Socialist Party and of course if the name doesn’t suit people we can always change that.

“I have prepared a manifesto and if people don’t like the manifesto we can change that, but this is a start.

“If you have a party you have to follow the party line, and everybody will be singing from the same hymn sheet.

“This won’t happen overnight. To have an up-and-running party is going to take some time but if you only have one candidate, at least you have made a start.

“The aim really will be to increase the number of party members and candidates, and when you have seven you are in a position to form a government.”

Several other election candidates have come forward. They include Derek Thomas, Earl Henry, Christine Scipio o’Dean and Cyril Gunnell – all members of the last legislative council – and Nigel Dollery.

The closing date for nominations is 2 July 2013.

Inmates swelter as councillors duck vote on prison move

Her Majesty's Prison, Jamestown. Picture: John Grimshaw
Her Majesty’s Prison, Jamestown. Picture: John Grimshaw

Efforts to end “human rights violations” in St Helena’s overcrowded prison have been frustrated by executive councillors’ refusal to consider plans for a new gaol at Half Tree Hollow.

It is thought the acting governor, Owen O’Sullivan, might exercise his right to approve the plans himself, because conditions in HMP Jamestown are so bad.

Any delay is unlikely to affect the ten current inmates in the prison, which has just three cells. Their sentences will end before work on converting Sundale House was due to be completed.

It is not clear whether the councillor’s inaction will hold up conversion work. It was hoped it could be completed in 2014, a year earlier than expected.

The five-strong council argued that it had been told it could not make major policy decisions during an election period, under “purdah” rules imposed by Governor Mark Capes before he left the island on leave.

There has been vigorous local opposition to the Sundale House plan, and approving the scheme might have damaged the councillors’ chances of being voted back in – though they may not intend to seek re-election anyway.

Because the council meets in secret, the thrust of the councillors’ views on the plan is not known. Had they taken it to a vote, it might have been against the scheme.

But the principle of the move had already been agreed by the executive council, meaning it could only be turned down on the grounds of its design – and that had already been approved by the island’s independent planning board.

Sundale House (walled compound, top right) and Jamestown prison are both "unfit for use". Aerial picture: Rémi Bruneton
Sundale House (walled compound, top right) and Jamestown prison are both “unfit for use”. Aerial picture: Rémi Bruneton

The acting governor’s report of the meeting said: “It was a constructive discussion with a number of points made.  I was advised by members that they believed that they should not make a decision on this during the purdah period and wished to delay consideration of this until the new council.”

The purdah rules do allow the executive council to make decisions on urgent matters.

A statement from The Castle said: “The acting governor and senior officials are currently considering the implications of council’s advice and we are unable to make any further comment at this time.”

Catherine Turner, the island’s human rights co-ordinator, said: “The general feeling is that ExCo had already agreed this and should have made a decision but ducked the responsibility.

“ExCo’s acceptance of the proposal in principle is probably minuted somewhere but that will not be put into the public domain.

“However, this is recorded in the the Land Development Control Plan and the Human Rights Action Plan. Both clearly state that the prison should be moved to Sundale and both have been agreed and accepted as policy by the current ExCo.

“No one is clear what the next step will be.”

Catherine said leaving the decision to the new council might mean a delay until September, given that the election will not take place until 17 July 2013.

She said: “I expect that given the nature and sensitivity of the decision, any new members will want time to read the papers.”

The island’s governor does have the power to take the decision out of councillors’ hands. But Catherine said: “He is off island – the acting governor could do it, but it is thought that that is unlikely.

“The project team are hoping that it will not cause a significant delay as they believe that there is plenty they can be getting on with in preparation in the meantime.

“As far as the prisoners are concerned, most will have finished their sentences before the planned date of the move so it does not effect them directly.

“But it is the rights of those convicted in the next 12 months that will be unnecessarily effected, and we do not know who they are.

“My view is that the poor conditions and human rights violations are well documented and have been known for years, and it has gone on too long.”

Failings raised in the island’s human rights action plan include inadequate ventilation in cells, lack of privacy – even in the toilets – and limited access to the small exercise area.

“The prison is currently housing ten men, three to a cell, and one prisoner has chosen to sleep in an outside police holding cell,” said Catherine, who also serves as a prison visitor.

“It is hot and cramped in the cells. Remand prisoners and sentenced prisoners who are in the high security category are not allowed to leave the prison, so may not work on the farm or on community projects. Therefore they cannot get any outdoor exercise to let off steam.

“It is a disaster waiting to happen.”

Conditions at Sundale House, which currently houses people with severe mental disorders, have also been criticised. The prison plans involve creating a new secure facility for them elsewhere.

Catherine Turner said: “Fortunately our new social work manager, Claire Gannon, is excellent and she has plans in place to get the people out of Sundale and into more acceptable temporary accommodation as quickly as possible. “She is not prepared to wait for the new build to move as she recognises that the conditions at Sundale are unacceptable.”

Unfit prison ‘will move’ to Half Tree Hollow, says planning chief
Prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

Public gets a vote as chief councillor plan is put on hold

The idea of electing a chief councillor for St Helena has been put on hold after a vigorous debate by the island’s Legislative Council.

It will now be put to a public ballot, to be held before LegCo’s next meeting towards the end of March.

The proposal would have seen one member elected to lead the Executive Council (ExCo) and choose its other four members.

Concerns about the idea – one of three suggested changes to the island’s 2009 Constitution – were expressed at public meetings across the island.

It was felt that people had too little time to understand the implications.

Local authorities in the UK all have a chief councillor – usually known as the Leader, and elected from the political group in control of the council. However, the leaders of opposition groups are entitled to attend and speak at meetings of the council’s ruling cabinet – the equivalent of ExCo.

With no political parties on St Helena, that safeguard would not exist. Concern has also been expressed to St Helena Online that the system could see non-executive councillors forming an unofficial opposition.

That could lead to them using their vote in LegCo to block initiatives by the executive, creating the kind of difficulties seen in the United States, where the President’s wishes can be blocked by policital opponents in Congress.

Rodney Buckley, who put forward the idea of a chief councillor, amended his proposal to allow a secret ballot among the public, with new efforts to explain the proposal.

He told St Helena Online: “The motion received a really good debate – likely the best ever seen in the Chamber.

“It was clear there was considerable difference of opinion, with no evidence-based mandate from the people, so I moved for an adjournment until the next meeting, to take it back to the people with a view to seeking their mandate through a consultative poll.”

Two other proposals were voted through: to reduce the number of government committees, and change the constitution to prevent executive councillors serving on the island’s main scrutiny body, the Public Accounts Committee.

Saint FM ‘wins backing from councillors’

The team attempting to revive Saint FM radio station appears to be close to success.

But a government press release announcing the “launch” of the state-funded SAMS Radio 1 makes no mention of the bid, despite it apparently winning support from executive councillors.

St Helena Online understands that councillors pushed to approve a licence application for Saint FM in the face of reluctance from senior officials, following public pressure.

Julie Thomas, chairman of the group behind the bid, reports that some legal formalities still need to be sorted after it failed to meet the requirements for charity status.

A push for people to sign up as members of the new broadcasting organisation is being held in Jamestown on Saturday, 16 February 2013.

An advert has also been placed for an assistant station manager. Mike Olsson, who founded the station in 2005 and closed it on 21 December 2012, will not be a part of its management committee, though he will supply news bulletins.

In a message to supporters, Julie Thomas writes: I would like to thank the general public for their constant support; it is certainly inspirational during these testing times.

Failing to become a registered charity caused apprehension, as this was one of the reasons our application had been delayed initially.

I am pleased to report however, that our application was considered by Exco on Monday of this week (11 February 2013) and the correspondence advised that the outcome was favourable but we would need to address a few issues in relation to the legal status of our association, due to the charitable status not being successful.

The letter advised that the Governor is willing to summon the council to meet again at short notice, pending our response.

Our preferred way forward was to establish a company limited by guarantee, to avoid an individual member of the management committee taking on the full responsibility of the broadcasting licence. This is a democratic structure and the incentive for members to become involved is not profit, but commitment to the objects of the organisation.

The application to register our company, Saint FM Community Radio (Guarantee) Limited, was submitted on Tuesday. A timely response was received on Wednesday suggesting a few changes, and more detailed explanation in relation to the association restricting its undertaking to one that is of an educational nature.

We have been busy defining our Articles of Association to take into account the advice given and it is hoped that this will be submitted today (Friday, 15 February).

If approval of our application is received, this should result in ExCo meeting once again, to finalise their decision.

In the meantime, to boost momentum we are advertising for the position of assistant station manager; and on Saturday from 11.30 am, the management committee will be in Jamestown, outside the New Horizons centre, giving a preview of what we hope to stand for, and the opportunity to register as a member.

Annual membership will cost £5 for employed citizens and £1 for the unwaged.  Membership is optional; however for Saint FM Community Radio to achieve its objectives, we need your support.

  • NOTE: No details have yet been given of ways to give support from overseas.

Greener than green: Saint pitches to run campsite

Just over the hill from the proposed site of “the world’s greenest hotel”, an even greener tourist development is planned:

St Helena’s first commercial campsite.

It has taken years of negotiation to secure approval for the much-vaunted eco resort at Broad Bottom. It looks as though clearing the way for the new campsite at Thompson’s Wood will be considerably more straightforward.

The proposal was discussed by executive councillors on Tuesday 16 October, before the public had even been told of its existence.

Governor Mark Capes described the idea as “interesting and innovative.”

He said: “The venture would require almost 5 acres of land to be excised from the national forests estate near Thompson’s Wood, and councillors were asked to approve this.

“Councillors welcomed the proposal, which they viewed as offering an attractive and ‘green’ alternative to traditional hotel-style accommodation.

“Another positive aspect of the proposed development was that the two individuals behind it, one from the UK and one from St Helena, had considerable experience of operating camp sites in Europe.”

No further details were available.

Now the sea is a no-go zone, as cliffs pose blast hazard

Cracks: fragile cliffs alongside St Helena’s airport site pose a risk of rockfalls

An exclusion zone has been imposed off the coast of St Helena because of fears about the stability of cliffs near the island’s airport site. 

It was agreed after a survey said rock falls could be caused by explosions planned by construction company Basil Read.

Click on the map to see it full size

The no-go zone extends 500 metres out to sea from Gill Point to Bay Point, in Prosperous Bay.

Inland, parts of the coastline are already closed to the public, including King and Queen Rocks. They will remain off-limits until the opening of the airport, currently scheduled for early 2016.

The exclusion zone was approved by executive councillors at their meeting on 18 September 2012.

Governor Mark Capes said in his report of the meeting: “Recent surveys revealed that the cliffs in that area, near the airport site, show signs of extensive cracks.

“As Basil Read will soon begin extensive blasting operations nearby, there was concern that this could cause significant rock falls that would present a hazard to anyone in the vicinity.

“The 500-metre exclusion zone is purely a precautionary safety measure to mitigate the potential risk from falling rocks.”

  • The airport workers’ camp at Bradley’s, on the edge of Prosperous Bay Plain, has now opened.  

Last walk to landmark before explosions rock airport site
Touchdown on St Helena: flight simulation

St Helena airport project – galleries

Stedson takes Tara’s place at the round table

Stedson Francis of Blue Hill has resumed his place at the round table in the council chamber in Jamestown, after being elected to replace Tara Thomas as a member of St Helena’s executive council. Tara resigned as a councillor on 31 August to prepare for masters degree studies in London.